One of the most special days I spent in Ireland was Saturday, June 16th, AKA Bloomsday. Sometimes stylized as Bloom’s Day, the event is named after Leopold Bloom, the protagonist of James Joyce’s classic modernist novel Ulysses, and is a worldwide celebration of everything Joycean. Bloomsday commemorates not only the day on which the novel takes place in 1904, but also the day Joyce himself met his future wife.
My study abroad group, one of our professors, and a staff member from the study abroad program we were part of spent the day in and around Dublin, taking in all the festivities in the very location where Ulysses takes place over the course of twenty-four hours. From public readings to groups of people in the attire worn in Joyce’s time, there was something to see everywhere you looked. Today I’m going to tell you all about some of the places we visited and things we did on Bloomsday! Complete with quotes from the famous book.
I’ll take one of those soaps. How much are they?
— Fourpence, sir.
Mr Bloom raised a cake to his nostrils. Sweet lemony wax.
— I’ll take this one, he said. That makes three and a penny.
— Yes, sir, the chemist said. You can pay all together, sir, when you come back.
— Good, Mr Bloom said.
He strolled out of the shop, the newspaper baton under his armpit, the coolwrappered soap in his left hand.
– Episode 4, “The Lotus Eaters”
Although Sweny’s hasn’t been a functioning pharmacy in years (it’s now a bookstore/tourist destination), it was still cool to peek inside. It’s so tiny! One of my classmates bought a bar of lemon soap, and then we listened to several public readings there – one of which seemed to have been organized in advance, while the other was impromptu. Gotta love those Dublin bookworms!
james joyce tower and museum.
— Do you pay rent for this tower?
— Twelve quid, Buck Mulligan said.
— To the secretary of state for war, Stephen added over his shoulder.
They halted while Haines surveyed the tower and said at last:
— Rather bleak in wintertime, I should say. Martello you call it?
— Billy Pitt had them built, Buck Mulligan said, when the French were on the sea. But ours is the omphalos.
– Episode 1, “Telemachus”
Stephen Dedalus – Joyce’s literary alter-ego, as well as an important character in Ulysses – and his friend Buck Mulligan live in a Martello tower, one of a series of small forts the British built along the Irish coastline in the nineteenth century. This particular tower is located in the town of Dún Laoghaire, situated just a short train ride away from Dublin city center. The lower portion of the tower is now home to a museum, while the upper portion has been recreated to match the living quarters of Stephen and Buck as they are described in the novel. We also had a chance to squeeze up the very narrow stairway leading to the top, where we had a view of the town and could see Dublin across the bay.
the forty foot.
He mounted to the parapet again and gazed out over Dublin bay, his fair oakpale hair stirring slightly.
— God, he said quietly. Isn’t the sea what Algy calls it: a grey sweet mother? The snotgreen sea. The scrotumtightening sea. Epi oinopa ponton. Ah, Dedalus, the Greeks. I must teach you. You must read them in the original. Thalatta! Thalatta! She is our great sweet mother. Come and look.
Stephen stood up and went over to the parapet. Leaning on it he looked down on the water and on the mailboat clearing the harbour mouth of Kingstown.
— Our mighty mother, Buck Mulligan said.
He turned abruptly his great searching eyes from the sea to Stephen’s face.
– Episode 1, “Telemachus”
Until that day, I had never considered that “most famous literary swimming locations” were a thing, but APPARENTLY they are. And this is one of them. I wish I could have gone swimming in the Irish Sea along with most of my classmates, but I didn’t pack a swimsuit on this trip because I didn’t think I would need one! It was fun watching everyone else, though, and the water smelled so interesting… I don’t live near an ocean, so I’m not used to saltwater.
No relevant quotes here, I’m afraid, because as far as I’m aware no part of Ulysses takes place here! But I promise it’s still worth mentioning. Late in the afternoon, we visited this suburb of Dublin to attend the book launch of Best-Loved Joyce, a little collection of quotes one of my professors edited. Although I haven’t had a chance to read the book from cover to cover yet, what pages I have seen were filled with fascinating quotes – and beautifully designed, too!
Not coincidentally, the launch was held just down the street from where Joyce was born in 1882.
I’m so so so so grateful I had the opportunity to be in Dublin for Bloomsday! I was super psyched for it because my Wonder Woman professor organizes a lot of public readings of the classics and was always talking about the event. Plus, Joyce is one of my favorite Irish authors: Although I’ve only read Dubliners so far, I loved it and found Joyce’s writing to be immensely readable. That day’s celebrations convinced me that I need to plunge into the creativity, wordplay, and sheer strangeness of Ulysses ASAP!